How to Teaching Kids Growth Mindset the Natural Way

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Knowing how to effectively teach kids growth mindset is a daunting task. At its core, growth mindset is all about helping kids understand how their thinking directly affects their ability.

Teaching Growth Mindset Starts With You   

For you to effectively teach growth mindset, you need to do some personal reflection FIRST.  I know this isn’t easy, but it’s essential.  You have to model a growth mindset before you can teach children a growth mindset.

As uncomfortable as the truth may be, you’ll probably have to alter some of your own attitudes and the way you speak to yourself.  But I promise that if you abandon a fixed mindset and embrace a growth mindset, EVERYTHING will change with what you believe is possible!

What’s the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset?

So, what is a fixed mindset? Well, in its most basic terms, an individual with a fixed mindset believes change is impossible. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “I was just born this way.” You might even hear them say things like… 

  • I can’t do this. 
  • This is too hard. 
  • I’m not smart enough.
  • I’m stupid.
  • I’m not old enough.
  • I’m too old.
  • You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
  • I will never understand this.

So, how is that different from a growth mindset? Well, someone with a growth mindset says things like… 

  • I can’t do this…yet.
  • This is difficult, but I’m going to keep trying.
  • I still have learning to do, but I will figure this out.
  • I can do whatever I set my mind to.
  • I am capable, I am strong, and I am valuable.

Notice how these thoughts, though still focused on the current reality, are made in light of the difference that perseverance will make on the future. Growth mindset always acknowledges the reality, but in a way that allows for improvement.

Can we change our mindsets?

The short answer…YES!  

Is it easy?  NO!

You see, choosing to change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is completely dependent on the one whose mindset needs to change.  No amount of desire from you can change another person.  They have to make the conscious decision to want to change.

Sadly, many of our students come to us with so much baggage. They’ve heard others say hurtful things about what they can or cannot do. Some have been told what sort of potential (or lack thereof) they have. These negative words affect the student’s outlook and sense of worth.

This certainly hasn’t taught them a growth mindset in their early years.  However, you have the power to help them break that cycle of negativity by teaching them how to embrace their current abilities in light of what they can do…if they are willing!

Creating a Growth Mindset Classroom Culture

Creating a classroom community that embraces growth mindset begins with understanding the difference between the two mindsets. The easiest way to help kids understand the concept is by creating an anchor chart with two columns labeled growth mindset and fixed mindset.

Offer your students a statement, and let them discuss whether it is a growth mindset statement or a fixed mindset statement. Once the class agrees, write the statements under the appropriate columns.

After the anchor chart is complete, you can hang it in a prime location in your classroom. This growth mindset poster will be a constant visual reminder of the effect certain words have on our attitudes and abilities.

Another way to actively create a growth mindset classroom culture is to point out when you hear students using growth mindset statements. This is an excellent opportunity to create a teachable moment for all of your students.

Having the growth mindset poster hanging up in the classroom encourages peer interactions. If kids hear a fellow classmate using a fixed mindset statement, they can help their peer reframe his thoughts to become less frustrated.

Using Books to Teach Kids Growth Mindset

My favorite classroom tools for teaching any new skills are books.  And there are some absolutely fantastic books that are the perfect springboards to teach kids growth mindset.  These are my top five favorites!

This charming and beautifully illustrated book follows the main character known as a “Bad Seed.”  He makes it clear from the beginning of the story that he does things to ensure others know just how bad he really is.

As the story progresses, he proceeds to explain that he wasn’t always a bad seed.  In fact, he had a good life when he lived with his family on a sunflower; however, a series of traumatic events and encounters changed him.

The reader quickly discovers how events in life can change one’s mindset from good to bad…or bad to good.

After sharing his experiences, the bad seed declares that he has recently had a change of heart which will affect every aspect of his life. He still makes mistakes, but he is learning as he goes.

This story follows Ramon, an artist who draws anywhere and everywhere.  At least he does until the day his brother says something hurtful about one of his masterpieces.

Ramon becomes angry by the comment and soon finds himself unable to shake the words.  Frustrated, Ramon’sattitude changes, and his ability to draw becomes impaired.  He finally decides he is done trying and altogether quits drawing.

But, little does Ramon know his sister, Marisol, has been curating a collection of his crumpled up masterpieces.  When confronted by Ramon about a drawing that was supposed to be a vase, Marisol states, “Well, it looks vase-ish!”

From that moment forward, the word “ish” frees Ramon from the hurtful words of his brother and gives him a new outlook on his abilities and the world around him.  

By revealing just how powerful words are, this story gives insight into the power a fixed mindset and a growth mindset can have on our current abilities and future potential in every other facet of our lives.

Another fantastic growth mindset book is “The Most Magnificent Thing” by Ashley Spires. In this book, the main character already has an image in her mind of what the “most magnificent thing” will look like and how it will work. After hiring an assistant (her dog), the main character gets right to work creating. 

Unfortunately, she runs into a few snags while trying to create the most magnificent thing. She discovers just how hard this is actually going to be to make.

After multiple failed attempts, she gets angry and ends up getting hurt. Her assistant convinces her to take a walk and clear her head. This break gives her the focus and perspective she needs to go back and create her magnificent thing.

“What Do You Do With A Problem?” is the second book in a fantastic trilogy.

The story opens with the main character having a problem that he didn’t want, but nevertheless, it is there. The more he tries to get rid of the problem, the bigger it gets.  He tries everything to get rid of it, but it just gets bigger.

Over time, he begins to worry about it and fears that the problem will become so big that it will swallow him.

When he finally decides to face his problem, he discovers that, at the very center of his problem, there is an opportunity to learn and grow. The courageous main character ultimately realizes that every problem holds an opportunity.

In this last growth mindset book, we’re introduced to a determined boy who loves stars so much that he decides to catch one. All day he waits all day for the stars to appear. When they finally do, he makes several attempts to catch one.

When he discovers that none of his ingenious ideas work, he begins to worry that he will never be able to catch a star. Yet, he never allows that worry to overshadow the hope he has in his heart.

In the end, he finds a star lying on the beach and discovers that his hope gave him the perseverance he needed to truly catch a star!

Growth Mindset Activities for Kids

The amazing thing about knowing how to teach kids growth mindset with activities is the fact that they get to apply extremely abstract principles to real world situations. 

In fact, the most important thing they are (hopefully) going to discover is that growth mindset is all about being willing to try things…even hard things, knowing you will probably fail the first time.

There are tons of ideas and activities online, but these are some of the most intriguing ones that I found.

The Paper Folding Challenge

In this challenge, students are shown an example of a paper structure. This structure has been created prior to the class so that they can only see the end result.

Their task is to attempt to recreate the structure using the same folds and cuts without any additional guidance.

The key to this challenge is the fact that they may look at the structure as much as they want, but they may NOT touch it or handle it in any way.

For more information about this, you can Google “the paper folding challenge.”

Crumpled Paper Activity

This activity is the perfect accompaniment to the story “Ish.”

In this activity, students are given a paper heart to hold. As you read the story, students are gingerly holding their hearts so as not to wrinkle them. When you read the section about how Ramon’s brother hurt his feelings by making fun his masterpiece, your students need to crumple up their hearts.

After reading the section about how Ramon’s sister makes him feel better about his “-ish” drawings, have the students flatten out their paper hearts. This is an opportunity for them to realize that no matter how hard they try, their hearts are never the same.

Be prepared to discuss about different times that your students have experienced a crumpled heart. Be vigilant in reminding them about why we don’t want to say hurtful things to others.

This will be a good reminder about the power of our words and how the things we say to others can ultimately affect how they feel about themselves.

Drawing Challenge

In this last challenge, students are given a piece of paper with a simple mark on it. It could be half a circle, a simple line, or part of another shape. The object of this task is to have students create a drawing from this original mark.

As a teacher, you will educate children year after year. But, one of the most life-altering parts of your job is to teach kids growth mindset. Because the reality is that if they can ever adopt this mindset, they can literally accomplish anything.